We do not set targets for overall police numbers. It is for chief constables to determine the number of officers in their forces. Targets have, however, been set for the recruitment, retention and progression of ethnic minority officers. Forces have been set individual targets with the aim that the proportion of ethnic minority officers in each force should match that of the local ethnic minority population. Once those targets have been achieved, forces will be expected to set a continuing target of recruitment in line with the make-up of the local population.
Is the Minister aware that a growing number of my constituents feel that the Government are soft on crime, and soft on the causes of crime? How can the Home Secretary set targets for recruitment of ethnic officers in each police force without setting targets for the overall number? Can the Minister explain why the chief constable of Essex told me when I met him that, contrary to what the Home Secretary told me at the last Home Office Question Time, there has been a 1.7 per cent. cut in the force's overall funding? In addition, the Home Secretary's 10-year target means that no extra policemen will be recruited in Essex for at least three years.
The hon. Gentleman's perception of his constituents' views has not improved since he left Basildon. Far from our cutting police expenditure in Essex, total spending in the current financial year will be £171.5 million, which is 3.2 per cent. more than would have been provided last year by the budget set by the Conservative party. That is progress under new Labour. We are tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, and that is much appreciated in Essex, as the hon. Gentleman knows to his cost.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Northamptonshire police have welcomed target setting and have been successful in recruiting black and ethnic minority officers of high profile and high quality? However, the force has raised the need for targets among support staff, including, for example, crossing patrols—lollipop ladies. Not only are such posts often the first point of contact for the public with the police, but black and ethnic minority people must have as much access as white people to the high-quality support jobs that exist.
Northamptonshire, police are to be congratulated on their efforts, and they have much to teach us all about achieving success in recruitment without diminishing in any way the quality of applicants. My hon. Friend and Northamptonshire police make an important point about the role of support staff, and we shall take it on board as we develop future policy.
As the Minister knows, we support more recruitment from ethnic minorities. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) said, there have already been reductions in the strength of police forces throughout the country. Will the Minister admit what chief constables, the Police Federation and police authorities say—that further cuts in the service are inevitable over the next two or three years on current policy? Are not such cuts against the public interest?
On the contrary, we are supporting chief constables in their operational capacity to determine the level of police manpower that serves the needs of the local community. The power to set levels and numbers of police was a power that the previous Conservative Government reduced and removed from the Government of the day. We have a duty to do what we are doing, which is to support chief constables by a settlement that brings an additional £1.24 billion to the policing of our country. That is something that chief constables welcome. We are giving them the power to do the job—power that they never received under the previous Conservative Government.